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Musical moments

Opinion

Musical moments

Richard O’Leary reminisces about the albums that saw him through significant periods of his life and one that he’ll never forget.

My sister-in-law’s birthday is January 26 and for decades she has been joined by family and friends to listen to the countdown of Triple J’s Hottest 100.

These days it may fall a day either side of her actual birthday, after the station changed its programming as a statement on holding Australia Day on that date.

But the tradition continues.

I have no such musical rituals, but I do have albums that mark different stages of my life.

U2’s Rattle and Hum was played on repeat in my last year of school, The Pixies’ Doolittle provided the musical accompaniment to my uni years, while The White Stripes’ Elephant was the soundtrack to the final months of my stay in Ireland.

When I hear those albums today, the memories come rushing back – the good, the bad, but never the indifferent.

Although it’s a mix tape that brings back the most vivid moment of my twenties – a tour of East Africa in an old army truck painted bright red.

Coincidentally, it was a Triple J Hottest 100 album – the 1995 edition – which featured a picture of a soft serve ice-cream on the front and a long list of sweet tunes on the inside.

I don’t know whether it was luck, fate, or just one of those quirky things that can’t be explained, but I was the only person to bring any type of music on the trip, so we played that tape across Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Zaire.

Jeff Buckley’s Last Goodbye was even more haunting under the stars after a day spent in the Serengeti, the coupling of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue for Where the Wild Roses Grow seemed even stranger on the side of a track in the middle of nowhere while we tried to repair a punctured tyre, while Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was just weird while scooting across the African savannah.

I have some amazing memories from that trip – getting to hang out with gorillas in their natural habitat, rafting in the Nile, and driving through Rwandan streets with buildings still pockmarked from the bullets of its recent civil war. There were also some tougher times – have I told you that I had malaria while in Africa? You must be the only person I haven’t.

But inevitably when I think of the trip, I picture that big red truck cruising through the desert, kicking up dust and the dozen or so passengers singing at the top of their voices Technohead’s classic party tune, I Wanna Be A Hippy.

We did – and for that month, we were.

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Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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